4 Reasons Your Calves May Be Sore After a Workout

Sore calves are usually a result of delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS.
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Have sore calf muscles put a little ‌ouch‌ in your daily activities? Even if you're a seasoned exerciser, it's normal to have some soreness when you first start a new workout regimen. It's also normal to experience mild to moderate delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, after any unusually strenuous workout.


But there are a few other things that could be making your calves hurt, like overexertion, lack of hydration, not taking enough time to recover from your workouts or chronic or acute injuries.

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Learn more about the causes, treatment and prevention of sore calves after a workout below.

First, a Quick Lower-Leg Anatomy Refresher

Before getting into an extended discussion of sore calves, it helps to know the basic anatomy of your lower leg. There are two muscles at work here, according to the Internal Sports Sciences Association (ISSA): The gastrocnemius is the beefy, two-headed muscle that's easily visible from the rear. The soleus is a smaller muscle that's located deep to the gastrocnemius, or between the gastrocnemius and your leg bones.


Both muscles activate for plantarflexion, also known as pointing your toe, per the ISSA. But your leg position makes a difference as to which muscle works. If your leg is straight at the knee, the gastrocnemius can contract powerfully. If your leg is bent at the knee, your soleus bears almost all the load on its own.

Reasons Why Your Calves Are Sore After a Workout

1. You Have Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

If you've just started a new workout regimen, or bumped up a level of intensity in your existing workouts, it's not unusual to experience some soreness in your muscles including your calves. You can also experience DOMS after any workout if it's strenuous enough, especially if you choose exercises that emphasize the negative portion of the movement — the part where your muscle lengthens while under load.


DOMS in your calves (and any other muscles) usually comes on in the 12 to 24 hours following your workout and fades after three to five days, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). With that said, you don't have to work out to the point of soreness to benefit from your workouts. The old adage of "no pain, no gain" is a myth, and should be rewritten to something milder like "no effort, no gain."


In fact, if you experience debilitating soreness that lasts for longer than seven days, or if your soreness is accompanied by very dark urine or weak, tender and swollen muscles, you might have a form of muscle breakdown known as rhabdomyolysis, according to the Cleveland Clinic. This life-threatening condition can occur as a result of excessive exercise without rest. If you suspect you have rhabdomyolysis, seek medical attention immediately.


2. You're Overdoing It on Calf Exercises

Have you recently added calf-intense exercises to your workout routine? If so, it's not unusual to feel some soreness as your calves adapt. (This is true for any muscle group when starting a new exercise routine, according to the University of Tennessee.)

While you might expect your calves to hurt after something like jumping rope, the truth is that all jumping and skipping exercises work your calves too, along with anything that lifts your heels off the ground. Some of the other exercises that might give you sore calves include:


  • Calf raises
  • Side shuffles
  • Front or side lunges
  • Running
  • Hiking uphill
  • Stair climbing
  • Step aerobics

3. You Have a Calf Injury

A Calf Muscle Strain

A strain is an acute injury in which the muscle fibers become overstretched, according to Harvard Health Publishing. A mild strain may feel only slightly sore and stiff, so you may not even realize you've injured your muscle. More severe strains in which more muscle fibers have been torn, or in which the muscle has completely separated, cause more marked side effects including:


  • Inflammation
  • Bruising
  • Muscle weakness
  • Loss of muscle function

Calf muscle strains are graded in terms of their severity and symptoms:


  • Grade I is a mild strain with slight inflammation and soreness.
  • Grade II is a moderate strain with more swelling and pain, perhaps some bruising and muscle weakness.
  • Grade III is a severe strain in which the muscle has separated. It's often accompanied by a popping sound at the time of injury. The pain and swelling are likely severe and there is loss of muscle function.


A Calf Muscle Contusion

A contusion is a bruise typically resulting from a direct blow to the calf. This causes blood vessels to break near the surface of the skin, leaking blood into the tissues, according to the Mayo Clinic. The bruise will be tender, blue and purple in color and there may be swelling.

Most bruises can be treated at home with the same protocol used for muscle strains (more on this below). As the bruise heals, the swelling will lessen and the bruise will change colors. Soreness may stick around for a while.


More severe bruising may require medical attention. If you have severe pain and significant swelling, experience pain for more than three days or notice a lump forming over the bruise (hematoma), it's a good idea to call your doctor.

A Calf Muscle Cramp

Muscle cramps, also referred to as Charley horses, can happen at any time, no matter if you're out for a run or fast asleep. Suddenly, your muscle becomes very tight, hard and painful. Muscle cramps are short-lived, but they can leave the muscle feeling tender and sore for a few days after, according to the Mayo Clinic.

4. You Have Another Potential Condition

Other reasons for your calf muscle soreness may not be directly related to the muscle. Some of these can be serious.


Achilles Tendonitis or Rupture

Your Achilles tendon connects your calf muscle to your heel. If it becomes irritated from overuse, you'll have pain at the back of your ankle that may also radiate up your calf, per the Mayo Clinic. If your Achilles tears, the pain will be more severe and you may have difficulty putting weight on your injured leg.

Achilles tendonitis can be treated with at-home care, per the Mayo Clinic (like the PEACE and LOVE injury recovery method — more on this below), but it's best to talk with your doctor for a more personalized treatment plan. If you suspect a tear, seek emergency care ASAP, as this injury may require surgery.

Blood Clot

Blood clots are usually a good thing when they form and stop a wound from bleeding. However, they can become dangerous when they form in certain areas, such as the deep veins in your legs — usually your calf or inner thigh, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Called thrombosis, this condition can cause many of the same symptoms of a sprain, including pain and swelling, as well as cramping, redness and heat. If you have these symptoms, you should see a doctor as soon as possible. Blood clots can travel to your lungs and make breathing difficult.

Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)

With PAD, your circulatory system is compromised, causing narrowed arteries and reduced blood flow to your limbs, commonly your legs, per the Mayo Clinic.

The most notable symptom is pain when walking. You might also experience numbness and weakness, coldness in the lower leg, painful cramping in your calves or other areas of the legs and a change in the color or texture of your skin, according to the Mayo Clinic.


PAD is commonly a sign of more widespread fatty deposits in your arteries, called atherosclerosis. While quitting smoking, exercising regularly and eating nutrient-dense foods can treat peripheral artery disease, it's important to talk with your doctor about the best course of action for you.

Lower-Leg Bone Fracture

A fracture to your fibula could cause pain and swelling in your calf muscle, per the Cleveland Clinic, because your fibula is your calf bone.

You can have a minor bone fracture without even knowing it, according to the National Health Service (NHS) because symptoms include pain, swelling, tenderness and bruising — which are similar to many other types of injuries. You may also be unable to move your leg.

A fracture requires medical attention right away, and treatment may include casting or surgery.

How to Relieve Sore Calves

If you have a calf cramp, gently stretch the calf by straightening your leg, then flexing it, pulling your toes toward your shin to stretch the muscle, per the Cleveland Clinic. You can also try massaging the muscle, icing it or soaking it in a bath with Epsom salts. Continue this treatment as long as the soreness persists.

A remedy for sore calves if you have DOMS from a tough workout is to follow these tips from the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM):

  • Do active recovery workouts:‌ Activities like yoga or walking can help make your muscles feel less stiff and sore.
  • Stretch‌: Dynamic stretching — a movement-based form of stretching versus holding a still (or static) stretch for a set period of time — can help improve blood flow and range of motion to your muscles.
  • Massage your calves:‌ You can rub the sore muscles gently with your hands, or you can use a foam roller to release some of the muscle tension.

Wondering how to heal sore calves if you have calf pain due to an injury, like tendonitis, a strain or a bruise? Use the PEACE and LOVE method:

  • P‌‌rotection: Avoid movement to minimize bleeding and reduce the risk of aggravating the injury.
  • E‌levation: Position your injury so it's higher than your heart to encourage interstitial fluid (the fluid found in the spaces around cells that carries oxygen and nutrients from the blood to the cells and removes waste products) to flow out of tissues.
  • A‌void anti-inflammatories: Steer clear of anti-inflammatory medications, which may affect long-term tissue healing.
  • C‌ompression: Apply pressure using tape or bandages to reduce swelling and tissue hemorrhage.
  • E‌ducation: Speak with your health care provider to learn more about your condition and how to properly manage it in the long term without overtreatment.
  • L‌oad: So long as you're not experiencing significant pain, begin loading the injured area, which can encourage repair and remodeling and build tissue tolerance.
  • O‌ptimism: Focus on feeling optimistic about your recovery, which can improve your prognosis.
  • V‌ascularization: If possible, engage in cardio to increase blood flow to the injured area.
  • E‌xercise: Try to exercise early on in recovery, which can help restore your mobility and strength.

How to Prevent Calf Pain After Working Out

Although a certain amount of mild to moderate muscle soreness is typical after tough workouts, it shouldn't be your goal, and it doesn't need to be treated as a badge of honor. The good news is that there are a number of things you can do to help prevent sore calves.

1. Ease Into New Exercises Gradually

Take your time when you adopt a new exercise that works your calves. Introduce it gradually, slowly upping the intensity, duration or frequency as your muscles adapt, according to the University of Tennessee.

2. Do Proactive Strengthening

If just one particular activity is making your calves sore, consider doing some proactive strengthening for your calf muscles, the gastrocnemius and soleus. Standing calf raises are an excellent workout for the gastrocnemius, per the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Seated calf raises primarily work the soleus, per the American Sports and Fitness Association (ASFA).

With that said, your body adapts to what you ask it to do. So, if it's jumping exercises that make your calves sore, incorporate some milder jumping exercises into your strengthening workout.

3. Warm Up and Cool Down

Warming up and cooling down can help prevent or at least reduce post-workout soreness, according to the Mayo Clinic. A solid warm-up is especially important if you're participating in high-impact activities, like jumping, because giving your body a chance to elevate its core temperature and increase blood flow to your muscles reduces your risk of injury.

You can include calf stretches in your warm-ups and cool-downs, like the standing calf stretch, supine single-leg press and seated resistance band calf stretch.

4. Stay Hydrated

Staying hydrated not only improves your exercise performance, it also reduces your risk of muscle strain — also known as a pulled muscle — which is another reason you might develop sore calves after working out.

Dehydration can lead to tense muscles, according to Piedmont Orthopedics, which can cause a number of injuries like muscle strains, tears and bone fractures.

Drink about 20 ounces of water up to 2 hours before a workout, per Piedmont Orthopedics. Then drink about 10 ounces of water every 20 minutes during your exercise session. When you're finished, drink 8 ounces of water to help your body recover.

5. Take Breaks

Are you giving your body enough recovery time between workouts? If you're doing resistance training, you should separate your workout days for any given muscle group with two to three rest days in between, according to the University of Colorado, Boulder. This way, your muscles can rest and recover.

Your calves are so instrumental in any sort of jumping or shuffling exercise that even if you aren't thinking "resistance training" as you do those workouts, you might still need a couple of days afterward to recover.

6. Stretch Your Calves

Stretching feels good, but there's not much scientific proof that it can actually reduce soreness. That said, the improved flexibility from a regular stretching routine ‌can‌ help prevent injury — especially if you're doing high-impact, calf-intensive jumping exercises. Right after you work out, when your muscles are still warm, is the perfect opportunity to stretch your calves out.

The following exercise stretches your gastrocnemius. To stretch your soleus, do exactly as described for the gastrocnemius stretch below — but instead of keeping your rear leg straight as you press your heel down toward the floor, let it bend gently at the knee. If you pay attention, you'll be able to feel when the stretch shifts from your gastrocnemius to the soleus.

Sets 3
Time 15 Sec
Activity Stretching
  1. Stand facing a wall.
  2. Place both hands on the wall for support, if need be, and take a good-size step backward with just one foot.
  3. Bend your front knee a little, but keep the back leg straight as you press that back heel toward the floor, stretching to the point of mild muscular tension, not pain. If you're very flexible, you might need to slide your rear foot farther back until you feel the stretch.
  4. Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds then relax, repeating it a total of three to five times.
  5. Make sure you take the time to stretch out your other leg, too.




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